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ISEK - Department of Social Anthropology and Cultural Studies Social and Cultural Anthropology

Born in Bali: Following an Alternative Midwifery Movement in Indonesia

Molly Fitzpatrick


Projektbild Born in Bali

Challenging the medicalization of childbirth has become a hallmark of midwifery movements in Europe and Northern America. Based on the idea that medical interventions inhibit the physiological process of birth, many midwives and childbirth activists have long argued for what they call ‘natural birth’. In Indonesia, however, midwives generally do not identify with the idea of natural birth, as it is associated with the dukun bayi (traditional birth attendants), who they have been trained to replace. With the aim of lowering maternal and infant mortality, current Indonesian midwifery is firmly rooted in biomedicine, and is characterized by standardization, surveillance, and protocol. This research follows a fringe midwifery movement in Indonesia that draws on globally travelling ideas about natural birth and applies them to the local politics of birth. Based on ethnographic research in which I followed this growing movement from two clinics on Bali across Java to Bandung and Jakarta, I ask: How do these midwives differentiate themselves from dukun bayi on the one hand, and state-trained biomedical midwives on the other? What attracts women and their families to these birthing clinics? And, finally, what can this midwifery movement show us about global and local negotiations concerning gender, kinship, medicine, development, and modernity?